By Jerry Jordan, Editor
HAMPTON, Ga. – Fresh off a complete redesign of the racing surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, track officials confirm they are still moving forward and won’t stop fighting to become an “entertainment destination” that could one day provide a casino resort and other activities catering to NASCAR fans of all ages.
Currently, the plan for a casino is somewhat stalled but a bill to approve sports betting was introduced in 2021. Atlanta Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Brandon Hutchison explained that he is hopeful that the bill will play out in the track’s favor and help their odds on bringing a casino to the property. It’s something the former AMS track president, Ed Clark, is working to make happen through lobbying efforts with the Georgia legislature.
“We are still working really hard,” Hutchison said. “You guys know the name, Ed Clark, real well and Ed Clark is still helping us with that initiative. At the start of the legislative session this year, I would tell you we are light years ahead of where we have been in the past. Last year the (Georgia) senate wrote some language on sports betting. I think you’ll see within this next week – crossover day passed – but since that was introduced last year, it will hopefully hit the floor for a vote this week. So, you might see a CA (constitutional amendment) or something on the ballot this year for sports betting and I will tell you, it is something that Speedway Motorsports is, again, we are in the entertainment business. We are not interested in just a brick-and-mortar casino in the front yard, we are interested in a full-blown destination resort.
“So, whether it was go-karts, movies, amphitheater, shopping, rooftops, a hotel is something we are very interested in. We are continuing to pursue it today and I can tell you that as long as I am sitting in this seat, we won’t give up until the people of the state of Georgia get to vote on it.”
When asked about his task and trying to get the necessary support from lawmakers, Clark said it is a long process but at the end of the day, bringing sports betting and gambling to Georgia will help pay for a lot of the things the state is currently short on cash for. Some of those include education and healthcare initiatives.
“We are trying to get a constitutional amendment done that will allow other forms of gaming to be legal in the state of Georgia,” Clark said. “It takes a lot of work, we have worked on this now, for about five or six years. I hope we are getting close to some sort of movement that will allow that to happen. If that can happen, then there will be a vote among the voters in Georgia if we get a majority vote in favor of (by the legislature), and then we can move on with specific legislation that would allow for casino gaming or sports betting or other forms of betting in the state.
“The good news is that if we can get this done, it will create a lot of jobs from a construction standpoint, permanent full and part-time jobs, and create dollars that will allow for education to send both high academic students to college and lower-income students to college and address medical needs in the state. All of these are good things that the state needs. I think we are on the right path. It is a slow process but we are making progress and, hopefully, we will make a lot of progress soon.”
Clark said the tough part about getting something like gaming passed by the legislature, whether Georgia’s or otherwise, involves educating people on the benefits and addressing concerns about the issue. He said, he has had many conversations with legislators and can see the progress to this point but it takes time.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Clark said. “To get a constitutional amendment done, you’ve got to have a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate and that is hard to do on anything. But, as I said, I think we are making progress and, hopefully, we are going to see something soon.
“They are looking at everything from sports betting to parimutuel betting with horse racing and, of course, casino gaming. All three are being addressed and discussed. If you look nationwide, sports betting seems to be the form of gaming that is getting the most traction in the most states.”
Clark said he wouldn’t be surprised if sports betting was the first form of gaming allowed but it still has to be approved by the voters in a constitutional amendment.
This weekend features two days of racing action on the newly created 28-degree banked asphalt track with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series racing on Saturday. The NASCAR Cup Series will round out the weekend on Sunday.